By Yasser Latif Hamdani
April 13, 2015
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has reviewed Venkat Dhulipala’s book Creating a New Medina (Daily Times, April 7, 2015) and in doing so made some statements that need to be considered in the book’s proper context. However, the most fascinating thing about this endorsement is that it contradicts the main position he has taken in several of his articles, i.e. the Lahore Resolution was the brainchild of Lord Linlithgow’s office. Dhulipala’s book on the other hand gives this theory short shrift by showing that there was considerable intellectual excitement amongst the Muslims of UP who wanted to reconcile their Islamic identity with a modern nation state. Either the Pakistan Movement was the product of conspiratorial elite politics that Dhulipala clearly rejects in his book or it was the product of a Muslim communal and cultural consciousness that had shaken up even Jinnah according to Dhulipala. You cannot have it both ways.
Regular readers of this space will remember that I have already partially dedicated two articles to this very important book, which, while drawing on the rich literature available on the Pakistan Movement, is deeply problematic in its treatment of the facts. This is why it is very important to address the book in its entirety. Dhulipala’s basic thesis in the book is that Pakistan was not insufficiently imagined but fully and even ambitiously imagined in the public sphere. To argue this he has relied on three things essentially: 1) the role of a sub-section of Deobandi ulema who broke with the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind and supported the Muslim League; 2) the debate that followed Dr B R Ambedkar’s classic Pakistan or Partition of India and MRT’s treatise on the constitutional problem of India and 3) the ideas of various actors in the public sphere putting up their own ideas about what this Pakistan should look like, including but not limited to the breakaway section of the Deobandi ulema first under Ashraf Ali Thanwi and then under Shabbir Ahmed Usmani.
Dr Ahmed is a big proponent of the view that one is not necessarily bound by the conclusions of an author and that one is free to make his or her own mind regarding the final conclusion about the material presented. It is with this spirit that I approach the book in question and I find in it enough material to prove the contention of a certain section of Pakistani liberals that holds that Pakistan was envisaged by Mr Jinnah as a secular democratic state and not an Islamist theocracy. After laying down in some detail how Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Muslim Unity Board were pro-Congress and were ready to collaborate with the Congress at every level, Dhulipala artfully skips over the controversy over the coalition ministries in UP and how the Muslim League was forced into contesting the five by-elections against the Congress in UP. He writes: “Given the obvious affinities between Jinnah and a section of the Central Congress leadership, as well as the local understanding in UP between the two parties in the 1937 elections, the failure of the Congress to include the Muslim League in a coalition ministry has generated much controversy” but “far greater attention needs to be paid to the actual process by which the Muslim League gained strength in UP” (page 49). This indicates his own priorities and is not necessarily a fair commentary on what drove the League away from the Congress.
That Congress was using Maulanas aggressively against the Muslim League at this point is well documented in the book. On page 86, Dhulipala writes: “More Maulanas from the Congress side were pressed into the campaign. Thus, while Congress employed its message of a mass contact programme, the rhetoric of the Ulema was also being utilised to fortify that message.” On page 87, Dhulipala mentions a hilarious but ironic incident where a letter from Nehru to Rafi Kidwai purporting to bribe mullahs with favours and money was delivered by mistake to Barrister Rafiuddin Ahmad, the Muslim League candidate from Jhansi. Despite such flagrant use of religion by the Congress, the Muslim League’s lawyer candidate trounced the Congress candidate by a large majority. The UP Muslim League won four out of five bye-elections beaten only by Hafiz Ibrahim, who had earlier won on a Muslim League ticket.
Religion, however, was very much part of the campaign on both sides: Congress utilising its Deoband and Ahrari heavyweights to which the Muslim League responded by bringing in its own Ulema. Another significant fact that seems to have been underplayed in the book but which strikes one as significant is the fact that while Jinnah remained completely aloof from the UP election campaigns, Nehru, the socialist secularist, was directly involved with them and therefore must have sanctioned the use of Islam by his Maulanas himself. To this end, Dhulipala writes on page 93: “Nehru again campaigned intensively in all three campaigns, even as Jinnah stayed away.” At another point he refers to a poster with an appeal to Islam by Jinnah, which turned out to be a fake. On page 94, he mentions how Congress’s Maulana Madni gave a fatwa that not only was it najayaz (impermissible) to vote for the Muslim League in the elections but was maujab-e-azab (worthy of divine retribution). Congress mullahs further declared that voting for Congress meant divine paradise in the afterlife. Dr Ahmed’s review seemed to miss out on all of this as he missed out on the chapters that detail Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind’s religious campaigns against the Muslim League. On page 310, Dhulipala writes: “Seoharvi also sought to provoke majority Sunni sentiment by indicating that Muslim League leaders were predominantly Shia. He ridiculed Jinnah, a Shia barrister, for doubling as a mufti. Seoharvi further bemoaned that Jinnah’s followers, such as Sir Zafrullah Khan, a Qadiani and the Raja of Mahmudabad, a Shia, were held up as conscientious Muslims.”
In the heat of the battle both Congress and the Muslim League used religion to mobilise the masses. Despite this, it is important to note that the Muslim League’s leadership very diligently did not allow any reference to an Islamic state, Sharia or khilafat to be passed by the party’s central executive. This is why, if Dhulipala’s book’s intent was to provide an Islamist basis for Pakistan (though I doubt it was the case), the book fails to upend the conventional wisdom about it. Just as Congress or India are not bound by what its Maulanas promised to the Muslim masses, Pakistan is also not to be held hostage to what some Maulanas argued on its behalf at various times. Jinnah promised repeatedly an inclusive democratic state with equal rights for all citizens and that should be the only ideological principle we should accept.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org